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Scientists found a way to restore motivation of people with Parkinson’s

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Posted April 15, 2019

Incurable diseases distort people’s world view. It is a very well-known fact that people who suffer from Parkinson’s lose all their motivation. However, now scientists from the Monash University proved that dopamine levels in the brain can help people with Parkinson’s disease to combat cognitive apathy and regain cognitive motivation equivalent to healthy individuals.

Low levels of dopamine in people with Parkinson’s disease cause lowered motivation to partake in physically and cognitively challenging activities. Image credit: HKB-Interpretation via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Dopamine helps regulating movement, learning and emotional responses to reward cues. Parkinson’s disease is actually characterized by the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. People know Parkinson’s by its motor symptoms. However, because this disease affects dopamine production in the brain, it causes patients to love motivation and succumb to cognitive apathy as well. Scientists estimate that around 40 % of Parkinson’s patients suffer from apathy. This results in harmful behaviour, when people refuse to engage in physically and cognitively demanding activities. People lose will to participate in discussions, learn, solve puzzles and so on. Obviously, this affects their quality of life and health prospects.

Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters – it sends signals from some nerve cells to the other ones. Previous researches have shown that dopamine is important in motivating physically demanding actions. This means that reduction of dopamine results in unwillingness to participate in physical activities (such as exercising). However, now scientists found that dopamine plays a role in cognitively demanding activities as well. Parkinson’s can negatively affect motivation to use brainpower in all kinds of daily activities. Scientists tested 20 patients of Parkinson’s disease and found that they were less willing to invest cognitive effort.

These findings could provide basis for dopamine therapy for Parkinson’s patients. Scientists already found evidence that dopamine medication can restore levels of cognitive motivation. Dr Trevor Chong, one of the authors of the study, said: “This is good news for patients with Parkinson’s disease, and emphasises the importance of dopamine medication in treating, not just the motor symptoms, but also the motivational problems that are a prominent part of the disease”.

Cognitively challenging activities could slow down the progression of the disease. They could improve health outcomes of these people and better their quality of life. However, there will be more studies and tests before dopamine therapy is approved for people with Parkinson’s.

 

Source: Monash University

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